Having only published two books this year it may seem as though it's been a quiet year for Mother's Milk Books. But as anyone involved with a small press knows, there's a huge amount that goes on behind the scenes to: a) produce those books, b) keep making sales to enable the press to stay afloat, c) keep up-to-date with all the business administration, and d) put in the groundwork for future books. And as I don't really pay myself for the work I do on the press there's the paid freelance work I take on to enable me to keep my children in shoes. (Their feet do have a habit of growing…)
However, amidst all the seen (and unseen) busyness of 2018 there were some very special highlights for me. One of them was seeing the amazing reception to Angi Holden's debut Spools of Thread (which was the winner of our inaugural Pamphlet Prize). Despite heavy snow Angi had a brilliant launch event, sold plenty of pamphlets and reviews were highly positive. As a publisher I can't really ask for much more than that! Then there was Inheritance, by Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, which won Best Collaborative Work at the Saboteur Awards (that was a super proud publisher moment for me), as well as the launch of The Forgotten and the Fantastical 4 which was a lot of fun. (Also, TFATF4 has almost sold out which is both heartening and daunting!) Having new readers connect with Ana Salote's Oy Yew – and write glowing reviews – was just brilliant (and makes me super excited about launching the last in the Waifs of Duldred trilogy next year), and meeting people at various cons who are readers and fans of the books (not a con goes by when someone doesn't gush about what a brilliant book Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith is) continues to be wonderful.
Receiving accolades at the inaugural Nottingham Writers' Studio awards – one for 'Writing Teacher of the Year' as well as 'Just Cause' on behalf of the press was another highlight. And alongside all this, my husband and I launched The Book Stewards which is our little space of the internet in which we blog about the ins and outs of publishing, providing insider information and motivation for writers. One of the reasons we set it up was because there's so little information about publishing out there, so hopefully, writers wanting to progress their careers – indeed, some who may want to be published by Mother's Milk Books – will be able to drop by and pick up some useful tips.
And of course, there was plenty of reading. Here are some of the Mother's Milk Books' authors/editors/supporters favourite reads of the year:
Angela Topping: The #MeToo anthology, the Poems for Grenfell anthology and Deborah Alma's Dirty Laundry.
Beth McDonough: I was hugely impressed by Robin Robertson's The Long Take. Apologies... as I know it's on some of the big prize lists... but despite that, it's daring indeed. As far as anthologies from the smaller presses go, I'm sorry Luath has had to delay publication until April, but Scotia Extremis (edited by Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone) will be a cracker! But Jim Stewart's This (Voyage Out Press) has to take top place. I just wish he had lived to see it published.
Also, though not a publication, and not easily definable... Martin Figura's Dr Zeeman's Catastrophe Machine was the high spot of a superb time at StAnza this year... by turns heartbreaking, funny and hugely life-affirming.
Rebecca Ann Smith: The best book I read this year – well my favourite anyway – was The Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman – highly recommended for anyone who enjoys smart, feminist sci-fi. It's about technology, sex, nature vs nurture, men and women, medicine and its limits, and what we can learn about connection and community from bonobos (that's a lot I know!). Packed with ideas but also engaging and relatable.
Ana Salote: I've been retreating into comfort reads from the 30s. Just finished The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff. It's about a working class family on holiday in Bognor and it's utterly engaging. It's so sensitively written and made me nostalgic for the modest but deeply appreciated satisfactions of the old analogue world. Angi Holden:
I keep a reading log and usually it's packed with goodies but, largely due to health issues and the ensuing tiredness and lack of concentration, I've read less than usual this year. However, two novels have stood out for me: Vanessa Diffenbach's We Never Asked for Wings
, the story of a woman finally taking charge of her complicated life (which made me question how much of the support we give our adult children is really in their best interest) and Rachel Rhys's Dangerous Crossing
, about the blurred social, national and political boundaries aboard an Assisted Passage Scheme liner in 1939. Both easy reads but thought-provoking.
Of my non-fiction reads I particularly enjoyed Kathleen Jamie's Findings and Sightlines, both re-reads. The nature and landscape of Scotland through the eye of a poet.
Much of my reading this year has been poetry, some of it acquainting myself with poets' work in preparation for courses or workshops. Difficult to choose favourites but Josephine Corcoran's What Are You After?, Deborah Alma's Dirty Laundry and Clare Shaw's Flood stand out. Tishani Doshi's Girls are Coming Out of the Woods was a particular delight as I'd not met her work before. Here's the title poem. http://poems.com/poem.php?date=17879...
Teika Bellamy: Although I read (and write) a fair amount of science fiction short stories (both Interzone and Shoreline of Infinity provide a continual supply of excellent stories) and have read some of the scifi classics I know that my science fiction knowledge is still seriously lacking. So I set out to remedy that by reading Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction. Though an engaging read it did take me a while to finish – purely because it's so stuffed full of facts and nuggets of insight into the huge genre that is science fiction. Now there's *just* all the books Adam mentioned within to read…! Poetry-wise I read a fair bit; I'm hoping to review the books I loved in more detail on my personal blog soon. Favourites were Angela Topping's The Five Petals of Elderflower, Kate Garrett's Land and Sea and Turning, Cathy Bryant's Erratics, Grant Tarbard's Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World and Rachel Bower's Moon Milk. Fiction-wise I really enjoyed Kij Johnson's novella The Man Who Bridged The Mist and Damage - a collection of short stories - by Rosalie Parker, and I thought Emma J. Lannie's pamphlet of magical realism short stories Behind a Wardrobe in Atlantis was exquisite. I'm also really excited about getting hold of a copy of Angela Readman's Something Like Breathing which will be published by And Other Stories next year.
Tom Bellamy: Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen was a highlight. It's very funny and very moving, and the author somehow makes you care for and like Francis – a grotesque though endearing character.
Rebecca & Jerome Bellamy: Pamela Butchart's Pugly series as well as the Wigglesbottom Primary and the Baby Aliens series are BRILLIANT! (Note from TB: we also really enjoyed reading Nikki Young's Time School: We Will Remember Them about children's lives in World War One. It's a page-turning though informative read - and particularly timely as we finished reading it just before the local Remembrance Day service which my daughter was involved in. It helped her to connect to what happened a century ago. And reading about a delightful mouse who lives in a steampunk world - 'Gelsomina and the Moon Yarn' by Valerio Vitantoni - was a lot of fun).
Thank you again for supporting Mother's Milk Books throughout 2018. We all very much appreciate it. Wishing you all the best for 2019!